For Samantha Wills, the decision to close her nearly 15-year-old eponymous jewellery brand was in part inspired by the “Seinfeld model”, with the young founder saying she wanted to “go out on a high”.
Wills started the business off the back of $80,000 in credit card debt and first sold her jewellery from a couple of stalls at the Bondi Markets in the early 2000s. The brand has since grown to a business with annual revenue over $10 million, and despite some falters midway through its journey, it’s been going from strength to strength in recent times.
That’s why Wills’ post on Instagram earlier this month announcing the closure of the company caught many fans and customers completely by surprise.
Speaking to SmartCompany, Wills stresses the choice wasn’t an easy one, and she only made it around five weeks ago. She says first and foremost the decision was a personal one, with the entrepreneur starting to ask herself what was next for the brand and herself.
“With any brand it needs to keep evolving, and it was evident that it was coming to the stage at 15 years where I was beginning to ask what was next for it,” she says.
“I felt like we’ve achieved so much, even product aside, with an authentic voice and our connections with consumers being so strong. We’ve also gotten so much out there around empowering women, and I started to feel we’d done everything we could do.”
Wills says the constant travel associated with running the business was also starting to take at toll, as the founder is currently based in New York. She would spend six weeks in New York, then 10 days in Sydney, and the back and forth travel became a grind.
“When the Qantas flight attendants start to know your name and schedule, it’s a bit of a wake-up call,” she laughs.
“I think it was the 100th time I did that trip last year, which is a total of three months with your feet off the ground. I felt that I wanted to stay in one place for a little while, and the jetlag and exhaustion didn’t help.”
Brand name stopped sale prospects
The Samantha Wills jewellery business will shut down in January 2019, but the founder’s other ventures such as the Samantha Wills Foundation, which has a mission of supporting and inspiring women in business, will continue.
Wills says she did consider selling the popular jewellery brand, but that decision revolved somewhat around the name of the brand itself.
“In the last 15 years many people have asked what my exit strategy was, and if I had one. And to be honest, if I had named the brand anything other than Samantha Wills, I would have one,” she says.
The entrepreneur says she has “huge ambitions” to continue with her brand through other ventures and didn’t want to hand the brand over to another owner by selling it.
Despite the name stymying any potential sale, she says she doesn’t regret naming the brand Samantha Wills, with her goals for running a business never being about money.
Though fans were shocked at the news, there has been an outpouring of support for the company after the closure was announced, something Wills says she and her management team were thrilled to see.
“We wanted to be completely transparent and make sure the fans knew the real reason we were closing down,” she says.
“Costume jewellery” changed the industry
Starting back in 2004, one of the biggest changes Wills says she’s seen in the jewellery industry is the increase in number of “costume jewellery chain stores”, which she thinks the market became oversaturated with midway through her business’s journey.
But in recent times, she believes customers have switched back to wanting a “quality connection” with brands and the people behind them, saying there’s “a lot of realness” starting to come through.
“The biggest thing I would say is important for similar businesses is maintaining and staying close to your authenticity when it comes to branding. I made the mistake of diverging from that midway through my journey, and it started to have an impact commercially,” she says.
Wills is adamant the next six months of the business will not be a “six-month funeral”, and is taking the path of a “non-traditional” closure by rolling out a number of new collections rather than discounting current ones.
She doesn’t know exactly what’s next for her, but the one thing certainly on the cards is a business memoir; the writing process “leaves a lot of time for reflection”, says Wills.
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